2024 James Beard Awards Highlight JWU Alumni Excellence

The James Beard Awards have announced their 2024 Restaurant and Chef semifinalists. Since an internal audit in 2021, the Awards’ nomination process has shifted to put greater emphasis on racial and gender equity, community, and sustainability.

The JWU nominees are a mix of returning veterans and new faces. Calvin Eng '14 of Bonnie’s (Brooklyn, New York) moved from the “Emerging Chef” category to “Best New Chef: New York State.” Eng’s recipes for Salted MSG Caramel and Garlic Chive Ranch with Crudités appeared in the December/January 2024 issue of Food & Wine; he is the coauthor (with Phoebe Melnick) of the forthcoming cookbook, “Salt, Sugar + MSG” (Clarkson Potter).

Chris Viaud '12 also made that leap — this time from “Emerging Chef” to “Best Restaurateur.” In addition to running Greenleaf (Milford, New Hampshire), Viaud’s Northern Comfort Hospitality Group also oversees Pavilion, a farm-to-table restaurant, and the more casual Ansanm. Watch Chef Viaud make the Haitian classic, poule non sos, with rice and beans.

“Outstanding Restaurant” nominee Bywater (Warren, Rhode Island) is helmed by chef de cuisine, Luke Mersfelder '16. He worked at such acclaimed Providence spots as Al Forno, Persimmon and Birch before moving to Chicago for a change of pace. Now back in Rhode Island, his work at Bywater has also earned him a Rising Star Chef award from StarChefs. (Watch for a story on Mersfelder and his JWU alumni Rising Star Chef peers soon; below is Bywater’s crudo quartet featuring all local catch.)

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Below is the list of this year’s JWU alumni semifinalists. The finalists will be announced on April 3 and the winners will be revealed at the Foundation’s annual gala at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago on June 10. (The media awards will be announced on April 30, with a separate awards ceremony on June 8.)

Outstanding Restaurateur
• Michael Gallina '85, Tara Gallina, and Aaron Martinez, Take Root Hospitality (Vicia, Winslow’s Table, Bistro La Floraison, and others), St. Louis, MO
• Chris Viaud '12, Greenleaf, Ansanm, and Pavilion, Wolfeboro, NH

Outstanding Chef
•  John Shields and Karen Urie Shields '00, Smyth, Chicago, IL

Outstanding Restaurant
• Bywater, Warren, RI
Luke Mersfelder '16, chef de cuisine

Best Chef: Great Lakes
• Jenner Tomaska '10, Esme, Chicago, IL

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic
• Dane DeMarco '98, Gass & Main, Haddonfield, NJ
• Matt Kern '99, One Coastal, Fenwick Island, DE

Best Chef: Mountain
• Erasmo Casiano '07 and Diego Coconati '00, Lucina Eatery & Bar, Denver, CO

Best Chef: New York State
• Calvin Eng '14, Bonnie's, Brooklyn, NY

Best Chef: Southeast
• Daryl Cooper '12 and Oscar Johnson '14, Jimmy Pearls, Charlotte, NC

Best Chef: South
• Tristen Epps '07, Ocean Social, Miami, FL
• Carlos Portela '96, Orujo, San Juan, PR

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